American author Naomi Wolf downplayed on Thursday several errors in her new book that set out to expose a buried story of gay persecution in 19th century Britain, arguing it was not a “social investigation” but a “cultural analysis of a mood.”
Wolf’s book “Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love” examined Britain’s Victorian laws that sentenced men to death for having sex with other men in a bid to highlight the struggles of the gay community in that era.
The author wrote about men sentenced to death by London’s Old Bailey court in the 1850s for sodomy, despite the last recorded hanging for gay sex in Britain being 1835.
But during a radio interview on Britain’s BBC, historian and presenter Matthew Sweet challenged the author’s premise that dozens of gay men were executed and when this happened.
Sweet said Wolf, during her research, had wrongly interpreted the phrase “death recorded” as meaning that an accused was executed when they were actually spared.
Wolf said she stood by “Outrages” despite the blunder.
“This is not a social investigation. This is not a demographic investigation. It’s a cultural analysis of a mood – just like all my books,” Wolf told The Times newspaper.
The author’s publishers in Britain and the United States – Virago and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt respectively – said they would correct the books as the “overall thesis” still held.
“I misinterpreted one of the cases (and one has no death record). But there are multiple other executions that are confirmed,” she wrote on Twitter.
Britain in 2017 granted posthumous pardons to thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of sexual offences.